By Renee Roberts,2014-05-25 13:27
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    Lesson Four Court System

Why Are There Two Court Systems in the United States?

     The U.S. Constitution created a governmental structure for the United States known as federalism. Federalism refers to a sharing of powers between the national government and the state governments. The Constitution gives certain powers to the federal government and reserves the rest for the states. Therefore, while the Constitution states that the federal government is supreme with regard to those powers expressly or implicitly delegated to it, the states remain supreme in matters reserved to them.

     Both the federal and state governments need their own court systems to apply and interpret their laws. Furthermore, both the federal and state constitutions attempt to do this by specifically spelling out the jurisdiction of their respective court systems.

     For example, since the Constitution gives Congress sole authority to make uniform laws concerning bankruptcies, a state court would lack jurisdiction in this matter. Likewise, since the Constitution does not give the federal government authority in most matters concerning the regulation of the family, a federal court would lack jurisdiction in a divorce case. This is why there are two separate court systems in America. The federal court system deals with issues of law relating to those powers expressly or implicitly granted to it by the U.S. Constitution, while the state court systems deal with issues of law relating to those matters that the U.S. Constitution did not give to the federal government or explicitly deny to the states.

Describe the Differences in the Structure of the Federal and State Court Systems.

    ?. Federal Court System

     A. Article III court.

    (1) the U.S. District Courts

     There are 94 U.S. District Courts in the United States. Every state has at least one district

    court, and some large states, such as California, have as many as four. Each district court

    has between 2 and 28 judges. The U.S. District Courts are trial courts, or courts of original

    jurisdiction. This means that most federal cases begin here. U.S. District Courts hear both

    civil and criminal cases. In many cases, the judge determines issues of law, while the jury

    (or judge sitting without a jury) determines findings of fact.

    (2) the U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeal

     There are 13 U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeal in the United States. These courts are

    divided into 12 regional circuits and sit in various cities throughout the country. The U.S.

    Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (the 13th Court) sits in Washington. With the

    exception of criminal cases in which a defendant is found not guilty, any party who is

    dissatisfied with the judgment of a U.S. District Court (or the findings of certain

    administrative agencies) may appeal to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeal in his/her

    geographical district. These courts will examine the trial record for only mistakes of law;

    the facts have already been determined by the U.S. District Court. Therefore, the court

    usually will neither review the facts of the case nor take any additional evidence. When


    hearing cases, these courts usually sit in panels of three judges.

     (3) the U.S. Supreme Court.

     The Supreme Court of the United States sits at the apex of the federal court system. It is

    made up of nine judges, known as justices, and is presided over by the Chief Justice. It sits

    in Washington, D.C. Parties who are not satisfied with the decision of a U.S. Circuit Court

    of Appeal (or, in rare cases, of a U.S. District Court) or a state supreme court can petition

    the U.S. Supreme Court to hear their case.

     The Court decides whether to accept such cases. Each year, the Court accepts between

    100 and 150 of the some 7,000 cases it is asked to hear for argument. The cases typically fit

    within general criteria for oral arguments. Four justices must agree to hear the case (grant


     (4) Special Article III Courts:

     (a) the U.S. Court of Claims (美国索赔法院) This court sits in Washington, D.C., and

    handles cases involving suits against the government. ;

     (b) the U.S. Court of International Trade. This court sits in New York and handles

    cases involving tariffs and international trade disputes.

     B. Special Courts Created by Congress

    Magistrate judges: These judges handle certain criminal and civil matters, often with the

    consent of the parties.

    Bankruptcy courts: These courts handle cases arising under the Bankruptcy Code.

    U.S. Court of Military Appeals: This court is the final appellate court for cases arising under

    the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

    U.S. Tax Court: This court handles cases arising over alleged tax deficiencies.

    U.S. Court of Veterans' Appeals: This court handles certain cases arising from the denial of

    veterans' benefits.

?.State Court Systems

     No two state court systems are exactly alike. Nevertheless, there are sufficient similarities to provide an example of what a typical state court system looks like. Most state court systems are made up of:

     (1) two sets of trial courts:

     (a) trial courts of limited jurisdiction

     Trial courts of limited jurisdiction are courts that deal with only specific types of cases.

    They are often located in/near the county courthouse and are usually presided over by a

    single judge. A judge sitting without a jury hears most of the cases heard by these

    courts. Some examples of trial courts of limited jurisdiction include:

    Probate court: This court handles matters concerning administering the estate of a

    person who has died (decedent). It sees that the provisions of a will are carried out or

    sees that a decedent's property is distributed according to state law if he/she died

    intestate (without a will).

    Family court: This court handles matters concerning adoption, annulments, divorce,

    alimony, custody, child support, etc.

    Traffic court: This court usually handles minor violations of traffic laws.


    Juvenile court: This court usually handles cases involving delinquent children under a

    certain age, for example, 18 or 21.

    Small claims court: This court usually handles suits between private persons of a

    relatively low dollar amount, for example, less than $5,000.

    Municipal court: This court usually handles cases involving offenses against city


     (b) trial courts of general jurisdiction (main trial-level courts)

    Trial courts of general jurisdiction are the main trial courts in the state system. They

    hear cases outside the jurisdiction of the trial courts of limited jurisdiction. These

    involve both civil and criminal cases. One judge (often sitting with a jury) usually hears

    them. In such cases, the judge decides issues of law, while the jury decides issues of

    fact. A record of the proceeding is made and may be used on appeal. These courts are

    called by a variety of names, including (1) circuit courts, (2) superior courts, (3) courts

    of common pleas, (4) and even, in New York, supreme courts. In certain cases, these

    courts can hear appeals from trial courts of limited jurisdiction.

(2) intermediate appellate courts (in many, but not all, states)

    Many, but not all, states have intermediate appellate courts between the trial courts of

    general jurisdiction and the highest court in the state. Any party, except in a case where a

    defendant in a criminal trial has been found not guilty, who is not satisfied with the

    judgment of a state trial court may appeal the matter to an appropriate intermediate

    appellate court. Such appeals are usually a matter of right (meaning the court must hear

    them). However, these courts address only alleged procedural mistakes and errors of law

    made by the trial court. They will usually neither review the facts of the case, which have

    been established during the trial, nor accept additional evidence. These courts usually sit

    in panels of two or three judges.

(3) the highest state courts (called by various names).

     Unlike federal judges, most state court judges are not appointed for life but are either elected or appointed (or a combination of both) for a certain number of years.

     All states have some sort of highest court. While they are usually referred to as supreme courts, some, such as the highest court in Maryland, are known as courts of appeal. In states with intermediate appellate courts, the highest state courts usually have discretionary review as to whether to accept a case. In states without intermediate appellate courts, appeals may usually be taken to the highest state court as a matter of right. Like the intermediate appellate courts, appeals taken usually allege a mistake of law and not fact. In addition, many state supreme courts have original jurisdiction in certain matters. For example, the highest courts in several states have original jurisdiction over controversies regarding elections and the reapportionment of legislative districts. These courts often sit in panels of three, five, seven, or nine judges/justices.

     What Types of Cases do Federal Courts hear? By State Courts?

    ?.Jurisdiction of the Federal Courts

     The jurisdiction of the federal courts is spelled out in Article III, Section 2, of the United States Constitution. Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction because they can hear only


two main types of cases:

     1. Diversity of Citizenship

     Federal courts can have jurisdiction over a case of a civil nature in which parties are

    residents of different states and the amount in question exceeds the amount set by federal

    law (currently $75,000). The federal courts are often required to apply state law when

    dealing with these cases since the issues concern matters of state law. The fact that the

    parties are from different states and that the amount in question is high enough is what

    manages to get such cases into federal court.

     2. Federal Question

    Federal courts have jurisdiction over cases that arise under the U.S. Constitution, the laws

    of the United States, and the treaties made under the authority of the United States. These

    issues are the sole prerogative of the federal courts and include the following types of cases:

     Suits between statesCases in which two or more states are a party.

     Cases involving ambassadors and other high-ranking public figuresCases arising

    between foreign ambassadors and other high-ranking public officials.

    Federal crimesCrimes defined by or mentioned in the U.S. Constitution or those defined

    and/or punished by federal statute. Such crimes include treason against the United States,

    piracy, counterfeiting, crimes against the law of nations, and crimes relating to the federal

    government's authority to regulate interstate commerce. However, most crimes are state


    BankruptcyThe statutory procedure, usually triggered by insolvency, by which a person

    is relieved of most debts and undergoes a judicially supervised reorganization or liquidation

    for the benefit of the person's creditors.

    Patent, copyright, and trademark cases

    AdmiraltyThe system of jurisprudence that has grown out of the practice of admiralty

    courts: courts that exercise jurisdiction over all maritime contracts, torts, injuries, and


    AntitrustThe body of law designed to protect trade and commerce from restraining

    monopolies, price fixing, and price discrimination.

    Securities and banking regulationThe body of law protecting the public by regulating

    the registration, offering, and trading of securities and the regulation of banking practices.

    Other cases specified by federal statuteAny other cases specified by an applicable

    federal statute.

?.Jurisdiction of the State Courts

     The jurisdiction of the state courts extends to basically any type of case that does not fall within the exclusive jurisdiction of the federal courts. State courts are common-law courts. This means that they not only have the authority to apply or interpret the law, but they often have the authority to create law if it does not yet exist by act of the legislature to create an equitable remedy to a specific legal problem. Examples of cases within the jurisdiction of the state courts usually include the following:

    Cases involving the state constitutionCases involving the interpretation of a state


    State criminal offensesCrimes defined and/or punished by the state constitution or


    applicable state statute. Most crimes are state criminal offenses. They include offenses such as murder, theft, breaking and entering, and destruction of property.

    Tort and personal injury lawCivil wrongs for which a remedy may be obtained, usually

    in the form of damages; a breach of duty that the law imposes on everyone in the same relation to one another as those involved in a given transaction.

    Contract lawAgreements between two or more parties creating obligations that are either enforceable or otherwise recognized as law.

    ProbateThe judicial process by which a testamentary document is established to be a valid will, the proving of a will to the satisfaction of a court, the distribution of a decedent's assets according to the provisions of the will, or the process whereby a decedent's assets are distributed according to state law should the decedent have died intestate. FamilyThe body of law dealing with marriage, divorce, adoption, child custody and support, and domestic-relations issues.

    Sale of goodsThe law concerning the sale of goods (moveable objects) involved in commerce (especially with regards to the Uniform Commercial Code).

    Corporations and business organizationThe law concerning, among other things, the

    establishment, dissolution, and asset distribution of corporations, partnerships, limited partnerships, limited liability companies, etc.

    Election issuesThe law concerning voter registration, voting in general, legislative reapportionment, etc.

    Municipal/zoning ordinancesThe law involving municipal ordinances, including zoning

    ordinances that set aside certain areas for residential, commercial, industrial, or other development.

    Traffic regulationA prescribed rule of conduct for traffic; a rule intended to promote the orderly and safe flow of traffic.

    Real propertyLand and anything growing on, attached to, or erected on it, excluding anything that may be severed without injury to the land.

    ?. Areas of Concurrent Jurisdiction for Federal and State Courts

     In addition to areas in which the states have regulated on a matter more extensively than the

    federal government, state courts have concurrent jurisdiction with federal courts concerning the

    following points of law:

    Diversity of Citizenship

    In civil cases involving citizens of two or more states in which the dollar amount in question exceeds $75,000, a state court may hear the case if the defendant in the case does not petition to have the case removed to federal court. Furthermore, if a civil case involves two or more citizens of different states but the amount in question does not exceed $75,000, the case must be heard by a state court.

    Federal Question: Any state court may interpret the U.S. Constitution, federal statute, treaty, etc., if the applicable Constitutional provision, statute, or treaty has direct bearing on a case brought in state court under a state law.


    Federal Court System

     ? the U.S. District Courts

     ? the U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeal

     ? the U.S. Supreme Court.

     ? Special Courts:

     the U.S. Court of Claims (International Trade; Military Appeals; Veterans' Appeals)

     (Magistrate, Bankruptcy, Tax) courts

    State Court Systems

     ? trial courts:

     (a) trial courts of limited jurisdiction ( Probate court; Family court; Traffic court; Small

    claims court; Municipal court)

     (b) trial courts of general jurisdiction (main trial-level courts)

     ? intermediate appellate courts

     ? the highest state courts

     Jurisdiction of the Federal Courts

     1. Diversity of Citizenship

     2. Federal Question

    Federal crimes


    Patent, copyright, and trademark cases



    Securities and banking regulation

    Other cases specified by federal statute

     Jurisdiction of the State Courts

    Cases involving the state constitution

    State criminal offenses

    Tort and personal injury law

    Contract law Sale of goods Real property

    Probate Family

    Corporations and business organization

    Election issues

    Municipal/zoning ordinances Traffic regulation

     Concurrent Jurisdiction for Federal and State Courts

    Diversity of Citizenship Federal Question


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